OUR ENERGY CONNECTION TO OUR SURROUNDINGS
from THE HEART OF PLACE, 1993
"We cannot lie", Marlo Morgan quotes the Australian Aborigines in Mutant Message, her account of a several month walkabout with them, "because our minds are open and joined to each other". The Aborigines' "telepathic" communication and their inability to lie both relies on and results in their having nothing to hide or need to close off their minds.
What would our own world be like if we became aware that our innermost thoughts were transparent to others? Would we feel naked and exposed, and paranoid about what people might see there? Or would it be a sigh of relief that there is no benefit or reason to lie and become caught up in the subsequent inner and outer complications? Would seeing the inner secrets of everything around us fill our minds with a strident cacophony of dissonance? Or would we find revealed an overarching harmony with which our own inner song could blend and enrich?
These questions are turning out not to be academic. We are affected more than we are aware by many unexpected dimensions of our surroundings. Our bodies and our minds pick up on even the dreams of those who have used our places before us. Our innermost values and emotions are openly imbued into our surroundings on many levels.
We know that much about our inner states can be read through body language, through the subtle variations in our speech or actions, and even in how we design and use our surroundings. We've slowly learned of complex communications among elephants, whales, bees, trees, and many other forms of life of which we were totally unaware only a few years ago. In states of deep attunement - through meditation, dance or musical entrainment, deeply harmonious living patterns, or even under influence of certain drugs - our sensitivity towards other people and things and our ability to communicate with them over distance is known to take order of magnitude leaps.
As our culture has developed a more and more discordant relation with the rest of nature, we have slowly steeled ourselves, raised the barriers, and closed ourselves off from the pain and disharmony resulting from our actions. There are indications that this may be so, and strong indications that we are bodily, if subconsciously, aware of very complex and detailed conditions of our surroundings and how they are affecting us. It also appears that we can learn to reopen and more fully reconnect ourselves to the world outside our skins as we lessen the pain we are causing there.
Health practitioners using a variety of techniques including dowsing, acupuncture, computerized electrophysiology and kinesiometry are now measuring specific physiological responses in our bodies to ELF radiation (extremely low frequency oscillating magnetic fields) and a wide variety of other environmental stressors.1 They are documenting consistent and persisting physiological impacts from events as small as an overflight by an airplane, the presence of plastic bags, auto exhaust, or low-level chemical outgassing from plastic windows, furnishings, floor and wall coverings. They are showing bodily responses to residuals of anger or fear from recent occupants of a space. They are showing demonstrable loss of muscle strength caused by magnetic fields from computer monitors, electric blankets, cellular phones, microwaves and other electrical appliances.
These studies are showing we are far less tolerant to the wide range of harmful chemicals, products, and other influences we have released into our surroundings than we had any idea. The emerging understanding of massive organic damage to our bodies from organochlorine compounds is only one of many that will necessitate major changes in our attitudes and practices.2 Most importantly, they are showing that our bodies are far more sensitive, and far more affected by apparently subtle aspects of our surroundings, and that the vehicle for our "immunity" to many stressors is intimately related to energy fields in our bodies.
Feng-shui masters such as Professor Thomas Yun Lin in Berkeley have long asserted that there are important and reciprocal energy interactions between us and our surroundings which affect our lives. "Our vital energy, or chi", he says, "impacts and alters the energy of the places we inhabit, and consequently affect others that use those places." We know on a less specific level that places retain the reverberations and mark of events occurring in them long after the event. Yun Lin outlines specific practices to impart positive energy into a place and counterbalance the residue of past occupants.
Such energy connections may appear esoteric at first contact. Yet the spiritual traditions of many cultures have long spoken of a particular kind of human life energy. The Chinese call it chi, the Japanese, ki. Hippocrates called it the Vis Medicatrix Naturae. The Egyptians called it Ka; the Hindus, Prana, the Hawaiians, Mana. Its measurement and how it operates in our bodies is only now slowly being worked out.
Many traditions have similarly spoken about the energy in a place - feng-shui, ley lines, earth energy. We know now that there is a demonstrable geophysical basis for part of this power of place. And it is being clearly shown that these geophysical phenomena affect all life and bodily processes, including the thought processes in our minds via the magnetite incorporated into almost every part of our brain.
It is only recently that we've realized that this interaction works both ways. Our internal "chi" energy impacts and alters the energy of the places we inhabit, in much the same way that the energy of place affects us. Dowsers in England a number of years ago documented amazingly precise correspondence between the physical configuration of various cathedrals and the patterns of energy they could measure underlying the cathedrals.3 What it appears today is that the energy fields in the building have resulted from the visits and energy brought to the place by centuries of pilgrims as well as from the original energy patterns of the sites.
We are clearly not distinct and separated from the world within which we move. Influence and awareness move both ways across our skins and entwine us into a single organism. There are no secrets, and no place or reason to hide. The harm we cause to our surroundings returns to cripple and diminish our own lives. There is no excuse for taking, only reason upon reason for giving and enriching life on both sides of our skin. The implications for how we shape and use our surroundings are significant.
Serpent Mound, in southern Ohio, was built upon a hill seemingly not unlike other hills in the surrounding area. But there is something quite different about this particular hill that quickly becomes visible to everyone. The grass there is different, the trees that grow there are different from those on surrounding hills. Even the rock and the air feel different.
There is an old and well beaten path to the Indian Hot Springs, north of Big Bend National Park in Texas. For hundreds of years, people have ignored other more accessible and more beautiful nearby springs in favor of the supposed healing and vision-inducing powers of this spring.
Over the generations, the popularity and fortunes of the Kiyomizu Shrine, perched precariously on the eastern hillsides of Kyoto, have remained strong, while those of other temples and shrines throughout the region have fluctuated with the times. There is something special we feel when we visit this place.
Since the beginning of human time, people have retreated to mountaintops, to sacred groves of redwood, cedar or other trees deep in the forest, or gone to sit by a stream, waterfall, or the ocean shore to find greater strength to deal with the issues of their day. There is something more than solitude that draws us to such places.
For millennia, people have repeatedly reported visions and significant revelations at Stonehenge, Delphi, and other "sacred places". And for millennia, the Chinese have held to an elaborate practice of "feng-shui" to align their homes, cities, temples and tombs with the energy currents in the earth.
Today, the more sophisticated instrumentation of our sciences is finally demonstrating that there are specific underlying physical as well as psychological reasons for these phenomena. Serpent Mound is the site of an ancient geological "implosion" which broke loose the plug of rock beneath today's Mound, changing the flow of underground water in the vicinity, and shifting the heights of the rock strata in the mound area relative to the surrounding rock. Over time, erosion has differentially worn away the overburden, so that the rock exposed there is limestone rather than sandstone and shales. There is consequently a different acidity and fertility to the soils. Different plant communities are successful there, and different conductivity exists in the rock.
Chemical analysis of the waters and muds of Indian Hot Springs reveals dissolved solids in greater abundance than other springs. The muds of this spring alone are high in lithium - commonly used medically today to stabilize mood shifts. Natural uranium is also present, which has the effect of stimulating the production of negatively-charged ions in the air. Magnetometer readings show unusually strong electromagnetic fields at the springs, which are located on top of the Cabrillo fault line.
Researchers at the University of London studying the electromagnetic fields around the ancient stone circles of Europe found that places like Stonehenge frequently have unusually strong fields which people can sense.4 Here again proximity to earthquake fault lines which regularly discharge electromagnetic energy, the unique crystalline structure of the stones and their particular geochemical makeup appear to result in fields which can often affect and be sensed by people.
Geophysicists and medical researchers are casting important light on some of the mechanisms by which these special places affect us. The rotation of our iron-cored planet in the stream of electromagnetic radiation from the sun generates electromagnetic fields in the earth's crust, the ionosphere, and the magnetosphere. The magnetic compass has for several thousand years revealed some aspects of this magnetic alignment and documented variations and anomalies in its strength from place to place due to concentrations of iron, water, and discontinuities in the earth's crust. But far more has been learned in the last thirty years.
Sunspots, solar flares, and seasonal shifts in radiation received by the northern and southern hemispheres due to the tilt of the earth's axis, all cause significant changes in these fields.5 The electrical field gradient changes cyclically - most notably a 24 hour cycle highest in early morning and lowest in the afternoon, but also on a lunar cycle, and one tied with cycles of sunspot activity. Weather conditions, such as hot dry winds (fohns, chinooks, Santa Anas, mistrals, or siroccos), cold wet fronts, or other storms cause rapid and significant electrical changes more extensive than the visible lightning bolts. Their high levels of positively charged ions cause breathlessness, headaches, dizziness, painfully swollen feet, itchy eyes and noses, mental disturbances and other symptoms.
In contrast, negatively charged air ions are created naturally by lightning, waterfalls, ocean waves and pine forests. They penetrate our body via our respiratory system, providing extra energy for electrochemical interactions in our blood. They improve the functioning of cilia in our respiratory system, and increase the oxidation of serotonin from our blood, as well as inhibiting the growth of micro-organisms.
The positively charged air ions produced by winds, fires and from concrete and asphalt surfaces, impair the working of the trachea surface, increasing the potential for illness and infection. They can cause diarrhea, muscle spasms and difficulty in breathing, as well as the other symptoms common to the fohn winds.
The rate of spontaneous electrical impulse generation by the nerves is affected by electrical fields, affecting visual brightness discrimination, alertness, and reaction times. Such fields affect the viscosity of blood and lymph fluids. Medical research is investigating the potential for more rapid healing of wounds and injuries, and even regeneration of limbs and organs with biological electrical stimulation. A range of health problems associated with the e-m fields associated with radar, computer monitors and other cathode ray tubes is also revealing the negative impacts that can also occur from the generation of low frequency e-m fields.
The earth's steady state magnetic field, the Schumann resonance, is about .5 Gauss in strength, and pulses measurably with seismic, volcanic, lightening activity and changes in the solar wind. Its dominant frequency is between 7-10 cycles per second, which is the same frequency as the alpha brain waves of the human brain which are connected with relaxation and creativity. This is not surprising, as any fluctuating energy field is likely to have greatest impact in tipping the balance of chemical and biological processes on its dominant frequency or harmonics of that frequency.
Measurements at "sacred" places often show anomalies in the electromagnetic fields of sufficient strength to cause biological entrainment - causing the electromagnetic patterns in human brains to become tuned to and resonate with those environmental fields. Other research has shown that it is only at particular frequencies, or "windows", that biological effects occur; that it is usually the magnetic rather than the electrical, and the varying or pulsating magnetic fields at these frequencies that have the most significant effect on living matter.
These influences are far larger than originally predicted by medical researchers because the energy acts to tip the balance in many delicate electrochemical processes in our brains and bodies, resulting in highly leveraged changes in the processes themselves. This is similar to the kind of leverage that occurs in "fractal" mathematics, where tiny variations in a pattern, over thousands of iterations can generate wholely new and dramatically different relationships and patterns.
While very small fluctuating fields materially affect our biological processes, there are also on occasion very large accumulations of such energy. During dry spells, the locally strong accumulations of electromagnetic energy cause a glowing halo around peaks in the Andes. Prior to a thunderstorm, the accumulation of electrical differential, particularly around mountain peaks, can cause a person's hair to stand on end.
The increasing documentation of the nature and pervasiveness of environmental energy fields and their biological effects gives credence to claims of the powers of certain sacred places. Documentation of the existence and effects of electromagnetic fields does not imply that other important conditions do not exist at places which have such powerful effects on our spirits.
The ancient Chinese art of feng-shui, and its parallel in modern geomancy, show an amazing prescience when examined in light of these geophysical processes. For several thousand years the Chinese have practiced an art of placing and designing their cities, residences, and tombs to harmonize with the local currents of the cosmic breath flowing through their surroundings. 'Feng-shui' literally means 'wind and water', but is concerned with quite different things than the surface topographical and ecological considerations that we consider important.
Rather than the normal atmospheric winds, feng-shui is concerned with the flow of 'chi' or 'prahna' energy of the earth and atmosphere circulating through the veins and vessels of the earth. Feng-shui has appeared to foreigners to be a puzzling blend of superstition and mythology, and they have continued to be perplexed and frustrated by the high regard which the Chinese hold for it and the central place it finds in their sciences. Like any traditional practice, feng-shui, as first approached by modern investigators, did reflect an intricate interweaving of sound principles and practices along with an accumulation of more than a thousand years of mythology and folklore.
The application of feng-shui to building location and design is based on a belief that at every place there are special topographical features, either natural or artificial, which indicate or modify the cosmic energies present there. The forms and arrangements of hills, the nature and directions of watercourses, the heights and forms of buildings, the location of forests, roads, and bridges are all important factors. The influence of the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars, are also considered important.
These considerations have led to a particularly refined appreciation of the topographical features of any locality, and the efforts to achieve favorable balance of forces has brought about a unique and sensitive environment, with high cliffs setting off thickets of bamboo; towering pagodas counterbalancing the contours of hills; and dwelling places quietly nestled in the contours of the landscape.
The practice of feng-shui differed considerably in northern and southern China, influenced by the quite different nature of their topography. North China, with a much more uniform and regular landscape, developed a practice emphasizing the influence of astrological and astronomical considerations. This involved the use of a complex geomantic compass to consider the relative direction and influence of various environmental and astrological forces. In the south, with a complex and irregular topography, the relative importance of the influence of surrounding land and water forms was much greater. This brought about the development and refinement of practices involving dowsing techniques to locate and map the location of various kinds of energy and consideration of the shapes and position of various kinds of landforms which correspond with certain energy flows and concentrations.
The sensitivity to the landscape which developed through feng-shui held important ecological and cultural meaning as well as more esoteric significance. The principles it employed for location of cities were also means of scientifically selecting a location that was functionally and ecologically sound, of ordering the arrangement and placement of the city to the forces and energies of its situation and its cosmos, and of reinforcing and affirming in the minds of the people the nature of their cosmos and their place within it.
The view of the cosmos upon which city location was based spoke symbolically in terms of four Gods - one dwelling in a stream to the east, one in a plain to the south, one in a highway to the west and the fourth in a mountain to the north. A site with these surroundings was felt suitable. A rectangular plan was made in the symbol of the cosmos, reflecting the rhythms of the sun and the seasons which most strongly affected the land. The Emperor was placed in the north, as he always faced the holy south in alignment with the growth-granting forces of the earth and sun. Temples were built in the northeast to a guardian deity, as that direction was felt to be unlucky - devils dwell in the mountains (as well as enemy troops). Buddhist temples often were placed in the west, as it was felt that Buddhism had a tendency to proceed eastward. The entire geometry and detailed layout of the city symbolically reflected and reinforced their understanding of the cosmos.
Thus sites were selected with mountains to protect the city from winter winds, and monasteries were founded in the mountains so the city could be warned of attack. Southern orientation brought sunlight, warmth, cheer, and sanitation. Fresh water and air were provided for, and the commerce and food supply of the city assured. At the same time, every activity in the making of the city, of living within it, and participating in its life reminded a person of the forces they felt in the world. They became aligned with those forces, and gained nourishment from them.
The laws of nature on which feng-shui is based comprise three principles. The first is that heaven rules the earth; the second that both heaven and earth influence all living beings and that it is in our hands to turn this influence to the best account for our advantage; the third that the fortunes of the living depend also upon the goodwill and general influence of the dead. Upon these considerations is based the elaborate and now time-encrusted practices of calculating the specific astrological influences on a place through the aid of a geomantic compass on which is diagramed the action of those forces.
The numerical proportions of nature are expressed in diagrams - the tri-grams of the I-Ching- where the various possible combinations of the two kinds of vital energy are minutely worked out in relation to different directions and the alignment of the forces of the heavens. The forms of nature, the shapes of hills and watercourses which act to divert, accumulate, or disperse the cosmic energies are classified according to their effect. The study of these, along with the diagrams, the expression of the laws of nature in astrological charts, and a study of the topography as it affects the flow of vital breath of nature through and around different places are all combined in the elaborate considerations necessary in the traditional practice of feng-shui. Interestingly enough, Chinese geomantic compasses after a certain date have additional notational rings added, duplicating the existing ones but rotated a certain number of degrees, reflecting an apparent shift in magnetic field orientation.
The intensive study, and valuing of the nature and influence of their surroundings with which the Chinese approach any alteration in them results also in a very different meaning of their surroundings to them. While we may see splendid vistas, and have an objective aesthetic pleasure in seeing them, the Chinese appreciation is cosmological. To them the viewer and the viewed are interacting, both being part of some greater system. While we may find a place beautiful, the Chinese more likely might remark that they feel content or comfortable. Feng-shui asserts a human interaction with the forces working in the cosmos. Landscapes affect us, and we may affect them.
Our growing understanding of some of the forces which appear to underlie feng-shui is giving us a clearer sense of the nature and importance of the complex interconnectedness we have with our surroundings. It alerts us to the hazards of the uncontrolled electromagnetic emissions enveloping our lives today. It is also helping clear away the encrustation of centuries in the practices of geomancy and develop new techniques applicable to our current conditions.
What is probably of greatest importance is our new understanding of feng-shui that the energy interaction works both ways. Our internal "chi" energy impacts and alters the energy of the places we inhabit, and consequently affects others that use those places. Knowing this is important both to our personal health and to understanding how we affect others. In the Pueblo tradition, our breath goes out and fills the spaces we inhabit, leaving forever traces of our thoughts and actions. In the Chinese tradition, our chi alters the chi of our surroundings. Lasting impact on the energy of a place from the "state of mind" of its users means a whole new consideration in the design of places. When our anger, indolence, reverence and passions are physically imparted to our surroundings, we have to become aware that our feelings can set up a chain reaction for good or ill. The design of our surroundings to balance such energy also becomes important.
Other aspects of feng-shui deal with how our minds respond to subtle psychological as well as physical configurations of our buildings. Entrances to homes opening directly into living spaces contain the potential for unwanted interruptions. Beds or desks located so the entrance to a room can't be seen by occupants prevent their psychological preparedness to deal with visitors. Heavy beams directly over a person where they work or sleep can become an oppressive presence in our minds. People in some cultures are uncomfortable sleeping with their feet towards a door, because it reminds them of corpses being carried out the door feet first.
Some of these factors are cultural, some physical, some psychological. Feng-shui acknowledges that our minds and spirits, dreams, fears and history all inhabit our buildings along with our bodies, and that their needs and gifts must be accommodated and nurtured in our design. It recognizes the full complexity and strength of our interaction with our surroundings, and establishes a framework for addressing them in our lives and our building.
1 "Assessing the Significance of the Geo-Arts", Henry Dorst, I.C.E.R. Journal, Fall-Winter 1992.
2 THE ECOLOGY OF COMMERCE, Paul Hawken.
3 THE PATTERN OF THE PAST, Guy Underwood.
4 THE DRAGON PROJECT, Paul Devereaux and John Steele.
5 "Working with the Earth's Magnetic Fields", Elizabeth Raucher, THE POWER OF PLACE, Jim Swan, ed. See also PLANET EARTH, Jonathan Wiener.
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